My Journey - the beginning.
by, 01-04-2012 at 10:06 PM (806 Views)
So, I've never blogged before but wanted to give it a go to document my experiences in pursuit of putting together a solid, computer-based HiFi system...here goes.
I guess I'll just start by stating up front that I don't claim to be an expert, that I am still learning, and that I this is probably the most comfortable audio website I've ever been a member of.
My blog is primarily going to focus on trying to figure out my room as that's where I'm at right now. I'm happy with my sound for the most part, along with my gear but I've never really addressed what some say account for 50% of what we end up hearing...the room.
This first post however, will focus on simply giving you some background on myself and my time in this hobby.
Growing up, music was always playing. My dad used to DJ local dances in the 60's so he had loads of 45's that he'd play on his very modest system in the house and play those same songs as well as others on the oldies station in the car.
I was in second grade when I received my first music playback device. It was a gray plastic Realistic tape recorder and a copy of Michael Jackson's "Thriller". I wanted a boom-box but this would suffice. I think I wore the tape out in a matter of months and remember being highly disappointed with the current Jackson 5 cassette that I bought next. Someone gave me a blank tape and after making recordings of myself I remember sitting in front of dad's stereo recording other current songs off of the radio that were playing through the speakers...talk about HiFi!
Cassettes were my only format from then (@1983) to December 1995. The Walkman and several other knockoffs became my playback system of choice as I could lose myself in the music of the hairbands and metal of the late 80's. A whole new world was opened to me when I replaced a pair of the stock Sony headphones with a pair of supra-aural cans from Koss. Everything sounded so much better!
Around this time my uncle, who introduced me to those 80's hairbands, invested in a modest system with a Sherwood receiver, Sony dual-cassette deck, and Advent Baby IIs. This setup blew dad's 10+ year old system at home away!
By the time I was old enough to work part-time I had moved on to the grunge and hip-hop of the early 90s. I'd tried numerous headphones, still using a portable as my main source. I'd make mix tapes for parties on a boom-box but it was still all about the music for me.
The summer of '93 is where this whole HiFi thing really took hold for me. I was heading into my senior year of high school and my friends and I were beginning to get bored with rap and grunge and started digging through some of our parents stuff. We'd play stuff by Zeppelin, The Doors, Steve Miller, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Rolling Stones. Then one day hanging out with my uncle and talking about the classic rock that I was discovering that was new when he was young he started playing some Beatles stuff, pointing out all of these little things in the recordings to listen for. It was fun! I felt like I was hearing things in songs that the oldies station played dozens of times that no one else even knew existed. I wasn't only enjoying the music but appreciating the recording. I began trying to listen more attentively from then on. It added a whole new dynamic to the act of listening to music. The cons of cassettes were becoming an increasing frustration as a result.
Dad retired his 8-track player, receiver and speakers for a Technics setup that had a CD player in '95. That year for my birthday my parents got me a copy of The Beatles "Anthology Vol. 1" on CD. I was blown away. I had taped outtakes of their stuff from the local radio station's "Breakfast With The Beatles" program that was on every Sunday but this 2-CD set trounced it them in every way. I saved up some scratch and bought a cheap shelf system and immediately "upgraded" the speakers to a pair of Jensen bookshelf speakers. I was in my glory. I subscribed to three magazines: Audio, Stereophile, and Stereo Review and poured over every issue, trying to figure this whole thing out.
Living at home and working my way through college I finally bought my first proper HiFi after living with a couple of other component systems. It was an NAD C340 Integrated Amp and C520 CD player paired with a pair of NHT SuperOne speakers. My bedroom was cramped and I ended up with the speakers about 8' apart and severely toed in to a listening position that was only 3' from the plane of the speakers. Imaging was surprisingly good but the balance was a little light in the bass so I later added a Velodyne sub. Armed with my trusty RadioShack sound level meter I dialed in that sub to cross over as best I could. I was hearing some of that lowest octave for the first time and it made listening to familiar recordings a completely new experience.
My speaker and listening positions were fixed and I hadn't even remotely considered treating the room in any way.
Fast forward several years and I was married and building a dedicated room in the basement of our townhouse that would house my first home theater system that put music listening as a priority. It was a small/medium sized room at 13' x 15' x 8'. I had upgraded to Paradigm Studio Reference series floorstanding speakers that I could cross over lower to my new sub that extended down to 16Hz. I had Rotel separates and cycled through CD players: Cambridge Audio, Rega, Arcam, Rotel, and a Denon DVD-2900 SACD/DVD-Audio player. I was sitting fairly close (@ 6' from the plane of the speakers) and the speakers were about 8' apart and toed in much less than I was used to in order to maximize the spread on the entire couch during multi-channel music/movies.
It was this setup where I first experimented with room treatments. I tried some heavy drapes and blinds along with small area rugs to try and tame the rather bare room. Can't say that it honestly did much. I started reading some stuff on the web and Michael Green's RoomTunes piqued my interest so I bought a set (still have them). I hung these around the room as recommended and the biggest difference I noticed was the reduction in slap-echo/ringing when I placed the "CornerTunes" up in the corners.
Three years ago as our family began to expand we moved to our current home - a single family home with no neighbors to worry about disturbing! Only downfall is the basement's (still) not finished. About a year in with a little one running around and not listening to music as often as I would have liked I downsized the system to a receiver, and some Monitor Series Paradigms. The DVD-2900 is now my CD spinner. The system's nice and serves it's purpose well.
As I started to find some spare time coming back and listening to tunes "seriously" again when I could I found the new setup lacking. Again, it sounds fine but not great. It's in a medium sized room 15'x20'x9' with the back half as a sort of cathedral ceiling and half of the entire right side open to the kitchen. The speakers are 2' out from the front wall and @ 8' apart and fire straight forward with the main couch only 3' off of the rear wall so there's quite a distance (and an area rug and a coffee table) between me and them. It's the best I could do in this setting and acoustic treatments aren't an option.
A little over a year ago I found this website and decided to consider the study/office as a music-only space. It was a small space, only 10'x11'x9' but I missed that imaging that I remembered from that NAD/NHT setup and I began the process of re-ripping my entire CD collection which has grown to close to 700 onto our iMac in AIFF format. I picked up a pair of Quad 12L Actives and a Benchmark DAC1 USB. For the first time in eons I picked up some new cans as well, a pair of AKG K701s. I place the speakers out on DIY "stands" to get them up a little higher and off of the desktop, pulling them out to the edge of the desk so that they were about 1/3 of the way into the room and sitting back @ 1/3 of the way from the back wall. I was giving up that last octave and some but the imaging that was so exciting was back!
I added some Auralex MoPads under the speakers to try and further isolate them but now they were at a height that forced me to use my desk chair rather than a more comfortable chair. I re-hung the RoomTunes kit and it helped about as much as before which was only a little.
The setup was decent though and had me back in the habit of seriously listening to music again. Over time though, I felt that the speakers were making everything sound a bit too nice and too similar when they were obviously very different through the AKGs. Still wanting to be able to listen deep into a recording I decided to go the pro-audio route for my next set of speakers and decided on the Dynaudio BM5A mkII that I still have today. I added a Behringer DEQ2496 that sits between the iMac and Benchmark. It seemed to offer some potentially useful things in getting me closer to the sound I wanted...something close to what they heard in the studio. Some describe it as "analytical" but in my opinion it's what this hobby is all about, higher fidelity, being true to the original.
About six months ago I decided to get off of the equipment merry-go-round and finally, seriously, attempt to tackle the room. After reading a review by Chris on Jim Smith's book I placed the order and was on my way. Around the same time I began researching online and was drawn to Harman's website with their excellent library of AES white papers written by Floyd Toole and Sean Olive. I began using Harman's Listener Training software and researching DIY acoustic treatment projects over on the pro-audio forum www.GearSlutz.com.
That's where I'm at now. Santa brought me Toole's "Sound Reproduction - The Acoustics and Psychoacoustics of Loudspeakers and Rooms" along with the 5th edition of F. Alton Everest's "Master Handbook of Acoustics." I'm reading them while continuing to read articles and forums online here and at other sites. This past weekend I rolled up the area rug, put some tape down and began measuring for the listening position with the smoothest bass response. I'll detail that process in my next post I guess as I've probably rambled on far far too long for my first one!